For centuries, small family-run firms have manufactured precious items for royal families, aristocrats and wealthy industrialists. This custom continues today, albeit on a smaller scale.
Discover traditional, extravagant, tasty specialities and souvenirs from Vienna. Textiles, leather goods, china, crystal and enamel are just some of the materials used by craftsmen who continue to create products of highest quality and beauty.
Two hundred years ago Franz Backhausen set up shop in Vienna. Since then Backhausen's exquisite fabrics have made their way into hotels, palaces, theatres and concert halls in 40 countries around the world. Apart from the huge array of beautiful materials, there's a small museum showing some fine examples of original Art Nouveau designs and fabrics in the flagship store's basement (Schwarzenbergstraße 10; www.backhausen.at).
Vienna's most prestigious store for finest cloth is Wilhelm Jungmann & Neffe on Albertinaplatz 3 (www.feinestoffe.at). With over 1,000 different fabrics to choose from customers come from far and wide to select their particular favourite. You'll also find a wide variety of silk ties, shawls and very elegant umbrellas here too.
China and glass
The history of Vienna's Augarten china – the second oldest in Europe after Meissen – goes back 300 years and is still considered to be one of the most delicate porcelains in existence. At Augarten Palace, in the 2nd district, guided tours through the factory let you observe the experts at work. The main store is on Stock-im-Eisen-Platz 3, just across from St.Stephan's Cathedral (www.augarten.at).
For six generations the Lobmeyr family (www.lobmeyr.at) have been honing their skills in glass and crystal production, and manage to successfully bridge the gap between tradition and cutting edge creations by cooperating with young dynamic artists on a regular basis – the black Rococo style mirror by designer Florian Ladstätter may not be practical but definitely stunning to look at. The store at Kärntnerstrasse 26 is one of the very few that has kept its original 19th-century interior and is well worth a look inside. Besides the muslin glass collection and gigantic chandeliers, check out the glass museum on the second floor: these exquisite historic exhibits allow a view into the family's 200 years of glass making.
Luxury, handcrafted leather goods can be found at R Horns (Stephansplatz 3; www.rhorns.com). Handbags, briefcases, wallets and even doggy accessories made out of hard-wearing fine-grained calfskin leathers that last for years and years are simply elegant and timeless.
Hats and clothing
Hats from the hundred year old milliner firm, Mühlbauer, were frowned upon by fashionistas for being old-fashioned, but only until Klaus Mühlbauer - fourth generation - took the helm. Today he designs hat collections, produced in the family factory in Vienna, that are sold worldwide. And since celebrities like Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Madonna or Yoko Ono wear them, these hats have become a fashion statement and a must-have accessory. In 2005 the ultra chic flagship store opened in downtown Vienna on Seilergasse 10 (www.muehlbauer.at).
Folklore clothing (Tracht) is very much a part of everyday life in Austria; traditional stores selling dirndl classics, festive costumes, Styrian suits, linen jackets, leather pants and loden woollen jackets are easy to spot in the centre of town. And if you attend a Viennese ball you'll see some ladies wearing what would, until recently, have been considered very conservative garb. However, since Vivienne Westwood's Tirolean husband, Andreas Kronthaler, was seen in a very trad Austrian look, folklore fashion is all the rage. Dirndls for every occasion can be made to measure by Gexi Tostmann at Schottengasse 3a (www.tostmann.at).
Chocolates and wafers
The tiny chocolate shop, Altmann & Kühne, (Am Graben 30; www.altmann-kuehne.at) is almost as cute as the unique tiny hat boxes, chests, miniature sideboards, books and jewellery cases in the window. These exquisitely decorated receptacles can be filled with selected miniature hand-made chocolates that make beautiful gifts for children and chocolate-lovers. The gorgeous packaging is almost as amazing as the chocolates themselves.
One of Vienna's timeless sweet treats is the Manner wafer – I got hooked when I first came to Vienna – a deliciously crispy, paper-thin wafer, filled with four layers of the finest hazelnut chocolate cream. The flagship store on Stephansplatz sells Manner's classic Neapolitan wafers and other sweet products (rum chocolates) made by the 110-year-old firm. Manner is the only company in Austria given the right to advertise with a picture of St Stephan's Cathedral on the packet. Warning: these wafers can become a habit. Visit the store at Stephansplatz 7, corner Rotenturmstrasse (www.manner.at).
My favourite shopping trip
Of all the stores in Vienna my favourite shopping trip, and one that never exhausts me, is to the Dorotheum.
One of the oldest and biggest auction houses in the world started life as a pawn shop 300 years ago. This is more than a shop, an auction house or a palace - this is a treasure trove, an Aladdin's cave. Auctions are held on a regular basis, and yes, they are worth going to, but what I suggest you to see is the huge sales area on the second floor, where everything imaginable is up for sale. Although not everything is of Austrian origin, the majority of the items on sale are. Look out for antique watches, brand new jewellery, antique furniture, oil paintings, designer lamps, fabulous porcelain, old books, maps, coins and much more. Prices are often very reasonable and many times I have just had to buy something that caught my eye either for family members or friends – and myself: a giant swarovski crystal ring for 19 euros, an Art Nouveau silver pendant for 32 euros and an antique map of Vienna for 95 euros.
Whether you're looking to buy or not I still recommend you to have a look inside this magnificent old palace, even if it's just to peek into the “Glass Court” on the ground floor. The huge advantage over other stores is that you can browse as long as you like and no one will bother you. There's a nice café on the second floor too, just in case you feel ready for a cuppa. Other branches are dotted across Vienna, but the best one to visit is on Dorotheergasse 17 (www.dorotheum.com).
Where to stay
For a full list of my recommendations on where to stay in Vienna, see Vienna Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Vienna.